Parsing Obama’s ‘you didn’t build that’ remarkby George Bennett | July 19th, 2012
As President Obama visits Florida today and Friday, Mitt Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republicans are offering full-throated denunciations of the president’s recent remarks about public infrastructure and individual initiative while campaigning in Roanoke, Va.
Said Obama: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”
Republicans say the remark that “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that” is a slap at hard-working entrepreneurs.
The Obama campaign’s “Truth Team” argues otherwise. The campaign website says: “The President’s full remarks show that the ‘that’ in ‘you didn’t build that’ clearly refers to roads and bridges — public infrastructure we count on the government to build and maintain.”
Conservatives aren’t buying that.
In a grammatical takedown on Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto called the Obama campaign explanation “bunk, and not only because ‘business’ is more proximate to the pronoun ‘that’ and therefore its more likely antecedent. The Truth Team’s interpretation is ungrammatical. ‘Roads and bridges’ is plural; ‘that’ is singular. If the Team is right about Obama’s meaning, he should have said, ‘You didn’t build those.’”